Its now been a year since i launched Talking FreEly, a local initiative to breakdown the stigma of mental illness by talking about it. In this video I reflect on how far we have come and where we need to go to next
One of the things I see on social media a lot is this statement
“Depression isn’t a sign you are weak, its a sign you have been strong for too long”
Its a well intentioned way of re-framing how we perceive mental illness but what does it actually mean and is it accurate? For me the language creates some problems!
Firstly, its a bit of a sweeping statement because mental illness is completely arbitrary, affecting people from all walks of life and for any number of different reasons.
What it refers to more specifically is a commonly encountered cause of depression. The curse of modern western society. Stress!
The “strength” to which it refers describes the capacity of a person to cope with stress. In so called “strong” individuals, stress acts as a motivator, an impulse to push harder and harder to overcome the adversity and achieve. When the drive goes beyond the bodies limits there comes a point where it has to break, like any system that is overloaded. At that point depression takes hold.
If you are one of these individuals (its fine by the way, I’m a lot like that myself) you probably feel better knowing that in spite of your mental health, society views you in positive terms as a go-getter. In some cases, it may encourage the perception that mental illness is simply a consequence of normal life if you want to “get on”.
But what if you aren’t “strong”? By implication, if not in actual language, this statement suggests that the opposite, people who fold at the first sign of stress and therefore don’t push their body through the same level of trauma, are unlikely to suffer depression. Apart from this (of course) being absolute rubbish, the implication is that these types of people are “weak” (it is after all the opposite of strong), a term most of us would consider to be an insult. Society after all has little regard for this approach to life.
Am I over analysing? Well certainly if the message that we value strong over weak is not implicitly carried in this statement on mental health, it is one that is heavily implied and indeed replicated across society, particularly in the workplace where I have repeatedly encountered the attitude that “going the extra mile” is pretty much compulsory.
Of course the path you decide to follow in life is an entirely personal choice. Where it becomes problematic is when society guides these choices through negative stereotypes. When people push themselves because they feel that is what is expected, not what they want.
Can a statement intended to make people feel better about themselves really do this? I think it can. I think the stigma of mental illness is driven by thousands of stereotypes, cultural norms and poorly used language. In this example, you could as easily change strong and weak for stupid and wise and tip the entire statement on its head. Language is a powerful tool and tackling what has become accepted norm is a huge challenge. If however we ever hope to have a lasting impact on the merciless onslaught of mental illness its one we have to take on.
It all begins by talking which is why Talking FreELY invest so heavily in facilitating simple and honest conversations about mental health. Because it is these conversations that will drive change.
If you are struggling with mental health there are a number of useful links on the Talking FreELY website. If you want to know how you can help to keep the conversation, check us out on Facebook and Twitter
I remember the days quite clearly. Standing on the platform at about 5am, shattered, waiting for the train into work with several other miserable people all of us slaves to the wage.
My story is probably familiar. Job in London, moved out when I had kids so I could afford a decent house, longer commute as a result. To minimise the impact I had condensed my hours so instead of working 5 days a week I worked 4 longer ones. As a result I got an extra day at home on the weekend but the trade off was leaving the house at 4.45am and getting in at 7.30pm on a good day. If there was a delay, which there frequently was, it could be 9, 10 o’clock or dossing down with my in-laws because I couldn’t get home at all. It was a grind and although I still believe it was the right thing to do at that time, I never the less longed for a better life.
I’m not alone in challenging the status quo. In a recent survey 60% of respondents admitted they have a hard time maintaining a good work-life balance and most of the people I speak to would prefer to have more time to do what they want to do. But is it really what we want and if it is, whats actually standing in the way? I suspect we will all resonate with the same thoughts: Fear of the unknown, conformity with an ingrained culture, lack of appreciation of our own self worth. Yet if we can overcome, the rewards are priceless.
These days I work for myself. My acupuncture clinic is about a mile from my home in the shadow of Ely Cathedral and I’ve structured my days so that I can do the school run every day and see my kids both in the morning and the afternoon. I spend Monday and Friday at home catching up with paperwork and all of the other unspoken responsibilities of a small business owner. I don’t drive a flash car or live in a flash house but I live comfortably within my means. Most importantly the 5am train journeys to London lie firmly in my past.
What convinced me to change. When I reflect back on my own journey to work-life balance it happened over three distinct phases, all of which were symbolised by an event or metaphor. I believe that by adopting this three phase approach you too can get the life you want so I have summarised each with the lesson I learned below.
Step 1 – Challenge your relationship with money
Everyone needs money to get by in life but it is entirely fair to say that western lifestyle is driven less by need as by desire. In my lifetime alone we have added mobile phones, broadband and cable or satellite TV to the typical household budget. Stretch back a generation and the list wouldn’t even have included a TV. Undoubtedly we have become more dependant on mod cons and technology but when you strip it right back, our existence doesn’t actually depend on them.
For most of us, work-life balance means making some financial sacrifices so one of the first tasks is to get a better understanding of your own relationship with money.
I first started to think about money differently when I moved to Ely where the train station is Sandwiched between a large Tesco supermarket on one side and countryside on the other amongst which is nestled the Bridge Fen allotments.
I often pondered the irony of looking out longingly at the allotments, wishing I could be out in the fresh air growing my own food for my family when instead I was travelling to work to earn money to spend in the supermarket on inferior quality produce because I was too busy earning the said money to spend any amount of meaningful time growing my own!
You may want to read that again a few times to get your head around it but in summary, by my reckoning, the lost income from trimming my working hours could have paid for itself in better quality home grown food. Looking even more laterally at the savings, I could have most likely cancelled out my monthly gym subscription too on the natural exercise I would get maintaining an allotment.
Now I should point out, I haven’t changed my life by growing veg (though it still sits at the back of my mind in the “to-do” pile) but it was this simple observation that set me to changing my whole way of thinking. Once I broadened this simple perspective I started looking at how I spend all of my money and asking hard questions about want over need. Do I need an expensive house? Do I need an expensive car? What can I get by on. If I don’t want to get by, how much will it all cost? This isn’t to say I live a frugal existence. There are many “wants” amongst my expenditures, the luxuries I feel give me the right balances in life, but what I did, and what I advocate for those who want to change their lives, is to really analyse expenditure, challenge your thought processes and in doing so set out your priorities. Do I need it, will I use it, will it make me happy? Cant afford your mortgage? Sell your house and buy a cheaper one. Already on the first rung of the property ladder? Sell and rent, move abroad, live in a caravan. I know it sounds drastic but you really need to get to the bottom of what drives you.
I could buy a bigger house, I chose not to because it gives me the freedom to work less hours and spend time with my kids. The point is that Financial freedom is an option for most of us once you peel away your manufactured barriers.
Step 2 – Find the right role in life
Actually this came to me last but Ive put it here in the chronology because (for reasons that become clear later) my own experience suggests that it’s a better fit sooner in the process.
For some people, the pathway to work life balance is going to be easier than for others. Some jobs lend themselves to part-time hours or flexible working. Others can make an easy transition to consultancy or agency work. But what about those of us who don’t have an easy transition or who are looking for a complete change?
For many years I had longed for the freedom of working for myself. Trouble is, I’m risk adverse. My dad lost heavily in a business venture back in the 80s and as a result growing up was hard. Jumping into the unknown and potentially investing speculatively on a business terrifies me and no matter how miserable I was the safety of my situation took priority over my happiness. It didn’t stop me dreaming though and I spent days and weeks in contemplation and conversation with family and friends trying to find the perfect plan. I got nowhere except frustrated.
My inspiration came from an unlikely source, a discarded newspaper on the train that I’d have normally ignored. This day however I picked it up and chanced upon an article about a person who had won a slimming title after losing a phenomenal amount of weight. I wasn’t really interested in the story and almost put it down but just at the end I saw a short sentence which read – “now works as a slimming consultant”. The simple idea of using your own experience to coach and inspire others made complete sense and as I thought it through I realised there were other examples. Reformed drug addicts working in rehabilitation, former gang members working with inner city youth’s and many more where life experience translated to work. From that moment I set my future career path on doing the same thing.
It was an exciting moment because I knew that this was a safe bet. I was investing in myself and as such had as much control over the investment as its possible to have. But what did I have that people wanted? The answer was simpler that I’d have thought. I’d stepped back from the world and looked at it from a different view point and when I looked around, realised that lots of other people are striving to do just that. I was going to change my life and in doing so improve my health and then I was going to help others who were stuck! I walked down a couple of dead ends before I decided that Acupuncture would be the vehicle for delivering my aims but once I’d decided what my “purpose” was the rest became simply about getting the right tools for the job.
Now it may well be that you have a clear idea of what you want to do. Braver people than me may chose to really go for it. If however you are like me and struggling to see what you have to offer the world my advice is to look a bit closer to home. The answer may be a lot closer than you think.
Step 3 – Step off the merry-go-round
Of course all of this insight and self realisation is just the preparation. You can buy the best parachute, get the best training and lay out the softest landing but whichever way you sugar coat it, you will eventually have to jump and that takes either courage or an almighty shove.
My encouragement came from a good friend who used to listen with good grace to my daily moans and complaints, crazy business ideas and mad-cap plans for a future that was apparently getting no closer. He would simply say to me, “Tony, you need to step off the merry-go-round”. And you know what, this metaphor encapsulates the whole experience of change so beautifully I cant think of any better way to put it! I wouldn’t however recommend getting off the same way as me. I half jumped and was half pushed when we were spinning pretty fast. I failed to hit the ground running and as a result fell flat and hard. You can spare yourself some pain by slowing the merry-go-round down and having a few steps planned before you jump! That said my fall became part of my toolkit. I got up, fixed myself and here I am now sharing the experience to spare others so I guess it wasn’t all that bad!
Bringing it all together
Embracing a work-life balance isn’t an easy task and there are times when it feels the world is against you. Society embraces quantitive success where achievements are measured in pounds and pence and it takes a brave person to challenge this and live their life to qualitative values.
What I can say, from personal experience, is if you can embrace the change a happier healthier life is almost certainly awaiting . Most people will secretly hanker after everything you have gained and actually, far from mocking will probably applaud you.
Good luck with your journey.
Tony is a former Metropolitan police sergeant now working as an acupuncturist in Ely, East Cambridgeshire and is available for private appointments or corporate presentations/events. Details of how to contact him are given here.
The issue of science and evidence based medicine has interested me since I first entered the profession of traditional acupuncture. I am fascinated by the far reaching capabilities of science, particularly how modern thought correlates with the traditional philosophical concepts of health that still form the main foundation of traditional Chinese Medicine. It is through this respect however that I have also learnt the limitations of what human beings can explain or understand.
The evidence base for acupuncture is a big subject in which many pitch battles are fought, usually between the relatively niche worlds of scientific skepticism and research savvy complementary therapists. Its dominated by big brains and personalities and an arena into which I feel intimidated to even dip my toe. However! The recent episode of BBC’s “Trust me, I’m a Doctor”, in which they tackled the question “does acupuncture work” in about 8 minutes has convinced me to offer some observations that may better equip people to make a more informed decision for themselves.
Acupuncture has been researched since the 19th Century and appeared in the first ever issue of the world acclaimed medical journal The Lancet. The scientific interest however gathered momentum in the 1950’s when Chairman Mao established a number of acupuncture research institutes as part of a “reinvention” of traditional medicine”. This and an increasing interest in acupuncture from the scientifically minded west led to a substantial amount of acupuncture research. It is now most likely the most widely researched complementary medicine in common use.
The Gold Standard of Evidence
When we hear about scientific evidence in medical terms it is really defined by the Randomised Control Trial (RCT) which is considered the Gold Standard of evidenced. In order to establish how well a particular treatment or intervention works it is studied alongside one or more “control groups”. Trial subjects are randomly allocated to one of the groups or “streams” in which they will receive either a treatment or a control treatment. In the best studies one of the control groups will be treated with a placebo i.e. designed so that the person giving and receiving it cannot differentiate from the active treatment. In a blind trial they will have no idea which treatment they are getting. In a double blind study the practitioner will also be blind as to which treatment they are giving. In its simplest terms a positive outcome would see the tested treatment or intervention outperforming the controls in a statistically significant way. Sounds simple? Its not. Its a complex time and resource intensive process. There are numerous quality indicators within the process and any deviation risks invalidating or at least undermining the entire study.
Difficulties of designing and RCT of Acupuncture
Firstly, there are a lot of poorly designed studies out there and I’m not decrying the ones that say acupuncture doesn’t work. Actually the opposite. Some of the early studies of acupuncture that consistently found it to be better than sliced bread aren’t worth the paper they are written on.
There are of course good ones too and it is in some of the larger and better quality studies of acupuncture that we hear one of the commonly cited criticisms that ‘whilst acupuncture outperforms “usual care” with statistical significance, it fails to compare so well to sham acupuncture’. This is interpreted by many as meaning it is no better than a placebo. I think we should consider more information before leaping to this conclusion.
Lets be clear, RCTs are designed for and lend themselves to researching drugs. In this type of research, creating a placebo is a simple matter of handing the subject a pill or liquid without any active ingredients, usually a sugar pill. The subject takes it as they would any other drug and in the main, this is a direct representation of how a patient would be treated with drugs.
For interventions using holistic therapies like acupuncture it is far more complex. Typical clinical practise for a traditional acupuncturist involves a great deal more than just needling. Palpation, case history, lifestyle advice, the list goes on. And then there’s the needling, tailored individually to the patient and their unique presentation. Many trials of acupuncture use pre-defined acupuncture points and seek to isolate it from the other parts of treatment like lifestyle advice etc. You end up with a highly sanitised treatment that bears little if any resemblance to a typical clinical encounter.
The issue of using a placebo control is also highly controversial. Creating a placebo for acupuncture means designing an “act” for real and false acupuncture that nobody can differentiate. The favoured methods are retractable needles that don’t penetrate the skin or normal needling on “non” acupuncture points. The latter at least involves needling which arguably activates a bodily response making it far from inert. The former is also far from infallible. During a practise sessions with various types of non-penatrative placebo needles I found that in fact they frequently break the skin and this corresponds with the experience of research acupuncturists too. If they penetrate the skin, can it be considered as a placebo or non-active intervention?
I’d suggest not so what you end up with is a placebo that may not be inert and an intervention that does not represent normal clinical practise. Yet in spite of this, both still outperform usual care. What does this say? My interpretation is that even bad acupuncture is better than usual care or no treatment. Imagine the potential for proper acupuncture!
What really grates on me is not the never ending argument of the wether or not an RCT has proved one thing or another. Its the hailing of an RCT as the be all and end all of evidence like nothing else in the world matters. I think this is demonstrative of a far larger cultural shift driven by advances in technology, not just our attitude to medical science. For example, in my previous profession of law and order we used to solve crime long before CCTV and DNA evidence (I hear the cynics amongst you! Lets have that debate another time!) Now it seems that witness testimony doesn’t really cut it. We need concrete proof and undisputed computer audit trails. Does this mean that without them the crime never took place, that the evidence of a witness was wrong? No, its just that we now have a higher expectation. The same is true of medical science. The old evidence is still evidence and actually, if theres enough of it or the “new” evidence is poor evidence it is arguably still “best” evidence! Thats not to knock progress, just to encourage some humility because our expectations now are so high we seem to forget that in the greater scheme of things we actually still know very little. Anyone who has suffered a migraine will back me up here. Drugs may work, they may not, they may work for a time then stop working. Actually, this commonly occurring but painfully debilitating illness is very poorly understood in spite of countless studies and amazing scientific developments.
Traditional acupuncture does not rely solely on what can and can’t be proved scientifically. It is built primarily on the collective knowledge of recorded clinical practise over 2,000 years. It is good evidence stood next to science which has only really developed in the last 60 years and still has a long way to go. I wonder then why some people would be so quick to dismiss it.
I hope that I have been able to give a good overview of the strength and potential weaknesses of scientific evidence in the field of acupuncture. In my opinion, whilst science has a huge part to play in our future, it still stands very much in support of the historical knowledge and philosophy that is the bed rock of traditional acupuncture. That doesn’t mean Im not excited about what it can and will bring to my profession as we make more and more advancements . I simply advocate tempering this with an awareness of our own limitations and the openness of possibilities beyond our own limited knowledge.
In the meantime I will continue to be guided by “all of the evidence” to treat individual health needs with traditional acupuncture for as long as it continues to help people. I have a feeling I won’t be retiring anytime soon!
Everyone is stressed! Its a 21st century epidemic because we work too hard and want too much. Examining the complexity of stress and how to overcome it is the basis of a deeper and more detailed story but there are some simple steps you can take to start off along the pathway.
1. Turn the technology feeds off – Yep I’m talking all of them. E-Mail, Facebook, News, Twitter. Did you know that there are now more mobile devices than people in the world ? There is increasing evidence that we are becoming addicted to technology. People are absolutely bombarded with information and it sits right there at our fingertips, bonging away every five seconds on a smart phone. Do you really need to instantaneously know that you mate just checked in at the gym or the Bank of England reduced the base rate by 0.25%? Will your mates gym session go any better for you “liking” it? No. Thats not to say we shouldn’t enjoy our technology. Just be more disciplined about when you use it.
2. Switch yourself off – When I ask people how they relax the most common response I get is “Watching TV” Lets explore this. Is TV designed to help us switch off? No. Switching off is the last thing the TV bosses want us to do. What do you watch? X Factor? The News? Soap Opera’s? Think about whats happening emotionally when you do this. Excited? Angry? Jealous? Watching TV may be giving your body a rest but not your mind. I recommend mindfulness as a way to regenerate the brain as its simple and accessible. You can find a wealth of resources out there to help develop your technique but if you want to just give it a go why not try practising a breathing technique and focusing on the breath for a few minutes each day. You will be surprised at just how busy your mind is!
3. Go for a walk – This has 2 benefits. Firstly, you get some exercise. A lot of my patients don’t register walking as exercise because we seem to only register physical activity with going to the gym. Actually the traditional Chinese view of health would take quite a dim view of all that heaving straining and sweating. Traditional exercises such as Tai-Chi are far more sedate but get the blood and energy flowing all the same. The second advantage of walking is you get some natural light. Studies of seasonal affective disorder suggest a clear link between natural light and mood so getting this into your daily routine is really important, particularly since so few of us now work outside, instead staring at manufactured light on computers all day. Get outdoors and revel in all that fresh air! If the suns out even better since sunlight is a natural source of vitamin D!
4. Sit down and eat properly – This isn’t a diet lecture. There are a whole bundle of resources out there on what you should and shouldn’t eat, some good, some rubbish. I do give dietary advice but one of the most overlooked aspects about food is how you eat it which is arguably as important as the food itself. Buying a healthy lunch then shoving it down at your desk between meetings is a waste of good food. Eat 3 times a day, every day, and take enough time to sit down and eat these meals properly, preferably at a table, but at least without distractions like TV, work and yes those retched smart phones again! You will digest better and therefore feel better. Less indigestion, more energy and who knows, you may even lose weight. Once you’ve nailed that we can start thinking about what type of food we actually put in!
5. Give yourself a break once in a while – One of things we struggle with in the West is this sense that one shower ruins the summer. If we have a chocolate bar our whole diet is a failure. Its a huge barrier to progress because rather than seeing it as a set back or a one off it becomes the end of the line. Out comes the ice-cream, on goes the Shakira (Bridget Jones for those who missed the reference). What we miss is the massive triumph of the 1, 2, 10 days before. Life is for living and whilst having self discipline is a wonderful thing having fun is an essential part of life too. If you fall off the wagon, remind yourself you’re human, applaud yourself for everything you’ve achieved AND for recognising your human limitations and start again tomorrow.
So they they are. 5 simple steps on a long journey. Thank you for reading and good luck. Do remember to check in again for more health a wellness tips.
Written by Tony Sigrist
Tony is a qualified Acupuncturist with a lot of experience in managing mental health. He is available for talks and presentations to businesses and groups and also has a private practise in Ely Cambridgeshire where he see’s patients for individual support across a full range of physical and mental health conditions. Contact him today to discuss your individual needs.
A video from 2 years ago of Toyah Willcox talking to the British Acupuncture Council about insomnia and how acupuncture helped her.
If you are after easing the sands of time a little, options have traditionally involved either surgery, fillers or botox. Increasingly people are turning to acupuncture as a way of enhancing and rejuvenating their looks. In this blog post I am looking at the two treatments and how they stack up.
What is it – Botox is a drug made from neurotoxin called botulinum toxin. The toxin comes from the bacteria that causes Botulism , a rare but life threatening disease that attacks the nervous system.
Scientist have estimated that 1 gram of Botulinum toxin could kill around one million people. Never the less it is generally well tolerated when injected into human beings in the correctly diluted levels.
It is important to distinguish between Butolinum Toxin and Botox. Botox is one of many commercially adapted Butolinum Toxin products. Whilst it is most famously known for cosmetic treatments, it has a range of clinical applications including involuntary muscular spasm, eye blinking, underarm sweating, and on some circumstances overactive bladder. More recently it has been reported as benefiting migraine though the evidence of this is disputed.
The first licensed use of Botox for cosmetic reasons was in 2002 and since then it has enjoyed increasing popularity, probably due to its use by the rich and famous, many of whom have spoken openly about their own treatments. It is now the most popular cosmetic procedure with in excess of 6 million treatments worldwide.
Treatments involve injecting botox into the face causing temporary muscular paralysis which helps to reduce the appearance of lines and wrinkles. The results are reported to last between 4 to 6 months. Side effects to treatment are rare but wide ranging and can be life threatening including: Problems swallowing, speaking, or breathing.
Prices seem to vary greatly from place to place and may not be openly advertised. People on the Money Saving Expert forum I looked at seemed to be paying around £150 per facial area in 2009, most needing 3 areas injecting. The NHS website and many other resources recommend that you find a suitably qualified therapist to carry out your procedure however, providers of cosmetic treatments that do not involve surgery don’t have to be registered with the Care Quality Commission (CQC), which is the independent regulator for health services in England. Many providers of services in non regulated industries will belong to a professional body of some sort and qualify their standards by declaring “Member of such and such professional body”. The reality is that these professional bodies too are often unregulated so these words alone mean nothing. You would need to do a bit of homework to satisfy yourself of the level of training and expertise your therapist has.
Acupuncture is a system of health that traces its routes through a rich and varied history back to ancient China. It involves the insertion of tiny needles into the body at specific points to illicit a specific clinical effect.
Whilst existing in european countries for hundreds of years, it started to gather in popularity in the 1970’s.
Research into acupuncture dates back to the beginning of the 1800’s but really gathered momentum in the 1950’s when Chairman Mao invested heavily in Chinese research facilities. It is now probably the most researched complementary medicine in the world.
Facial Enhancement Acupuncture, also referred to as Cosmetic Acupuncture, is a relatively new application though it is starting to get quite a name for itself in the beauty industry. It is believed that the small trauma caused by an acupuncture needle causes the body to regenerate its naturally occurring elastin and collagen which gently and eases the signs of ageing with repeated application.
Treatment involves the insertion of many tiny needles into the skin along lines, furrows or damaged areas (such as from acne). Some practitioners include other techniques like massage, to supplement treatment. A properly trained traditional acupuncturist is also likely to take a full case history and address underlying health and well being issues. Optimal results are said to be achieved after a course of regular treatment, between 6 and 10, after which periodic sessions to keep things topped up are recommended.
Side effects to acupuncture are also rare. As with an injection, you may experience bruising at a needle site. This is rare and a well trained practitioner will be able to minimise the effects with good after care however on the occasions when treatment does leave its mark you can expect the bruise to clear within a few days. For these reasons most credible acupuncturists will recommend that you don’t have treatment within 2 weeks of a big occasion. More information on side effects and their prevalence can be found at the British Acupuncture Council Website, www.acupuncture.org.uk
As with non surgical cosmetic procedures, acupuncture in the UK is unregulated and some individuals have sought to exploit this by offering their services with minimal training. A good measure of quality is the educational level of your therapist. Traditional acupuncturists have studied a 3 year degree course or equivalent. This level is a minimum requirement to become a member of the British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) so if your therapist belongs to this organisation you can be absolutely assured of the highest standards. Other providers of cosmetic acupuncture are likely to be doing acupuncture as a supplement to their main discipline i.e. physio’s, osteopaths etc. The amount of training varies greatly from 1 day to more formalised week long courses.
Cost again varies and tends to be region specific. In central London you could be paying anywhere up to £250 per session. Elsewhere anything up to £80 is reasonable though this is not to say that those charging more are ripping you off. They may be offering a very deluxe product. Most acupuncturists are very transparent with their pricing so it should be easy to compare costs within your area.
If you are interested in trying out facial enhancement acupuncture the feel free to give me a call or book in for a session at one of my clinics in Girton and Ely.
Acupuncture is one of the oldest documented medicines in the world and is increasing in popularity all the time. Most people have either heard of acupuncture or know someone who has had treatment but how much do we actually know?
How did it start?
What can it treat?
Does it hurt?
Will it work?
Now is your chance to find out the answers to these questions and much more. To mark Acupuncture Awareness Week 2016, local practitioner Tony Sigrist is hosting a talk on the history, philosophy and science behind traditional acupuncture followed by a question and answer session. And best of all, its completely FREE OF CHARGE to attend.
If you would like to come along for the evening please register your interest by emailing email@example.com with your name and the number of attendees you wish to bring. Alternatively you can register on Facebook by clicking here
Whilst I spend a lot of time talking about the wide spectrum of holistic clinical applications for acupuncture, it is still the case that the majority of patients I see, and indeed who present to acupuncturists around the country, are seeking help with some type of pain. The treatment of pain is probably what acupuncture is best known for. Indeed it is also pain treatments for which the best scientific evidence of efficacy exists (Lower back pain and migraine/cluster type headaches, NICE recommendations) In this blog we are looking in a little more detail at the subject of pain and how acupuncture may help.
What is Pain?
The widely accepted definition of pain was developed by a taxonomy task force of the International Association for the Study of Pain: “Pain is an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience that is associated with actual or potential tissue damage or described in such terms.” Importantly, this definition highlights the fact that pain is a subjective sensation. In other words expressions such as “it can’t be that bad” say more about the frustration of the person saying it than the person suffering pain. One persons unbearable pain may be very different to the next, indeed it may be very different according to a number of external factors like temperature, time of day, mood etc. In my work, pain is whatever the patient says it is.
There are a number of ways in which to classify pain but I particularly like those described by Professor G. F. Gebhart who separates pain into protective and non protective of acute or chronic duration.
Protective pain could be likened to my old career as a police officer. Nobody likes it much but actually its doing an essential job. In this simplest form, pain is a protective response from our body to prevent more serious injury. For example, the pain one experiences when touching something hot is a warning shot that prevents a more serious burn. Without pain we’d be in big trouble. A very small number of people in the world are born with a condition called congenital analgesia, no sense of pain, and it is a serious life threatening condition. So when we injure ourselves and it hurts when we move in a particular way, we can normally accept from this that our body, at least for that moment in time, doesn’t want us to move in that way through fear of making the injury worse.
Non protective pain by comparison serves no obvious protective function, such as the the pain experienced after a nerve injury.
The terms chronic and acute can be ascribed to either of the above classifications and describe the duration of the pain. The NHS consider pain to be chronic or persistent if it has been suffered for 3 months or more and has failed to respond to standard medical treatment. Persistent pain is a poorly understood condition but it is believed that in at least some cases, there has been a breakdown in the way in which the body processes information from our highly complex nervous system. Alarmingly its not an unusual condition. The Chronic Pain Policy Coalition in a recent publication reported around 14 million people in the UK alone living with persistent pain, 25% of whom have lost their jobs. In other words, if you suffer from chronic pain, you are far from being alone.
So how does acupuncture work?
Scientific research for acupuncture is very complex and is much debated (a subject better covered in my talks). A number of theories are suggested for the mechanism behind acupuncture treatment. Some studies have found that certain hormones released by the body for anaglesia in response to pain are released in greater quantities during electro-acupucture treatment. Another explanation is the micro trauma theory which suggests that causing a very small injury in the region of existing trauma re-activates the bodies healing mechanism, “waking it up” so to speak. All of the current theories/explanations are interesting and plausible but it is fair to say that the exact science is not fully understood and needs more investigation. Never the less, in certain pain conditions such as migraine and lower back pain the results of using even very basic acupuncture treatment is so positive that it is recommended by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence.
Where pain is chronic it may be more useful to consider the problem in the Traditional Chinese Medicine paradigm. In basic terms this holds that the usual smooth flow of the bodies energy force, Qi, is disrupted which causes a blockage or stagnation. This in turn causes pain. Acupuncture at certain points on the body can get the energy moving in the right way again. Of course moving Qi is just one part of the problem. The challenge, and what makes acupuncture a holistic therapy, is to work out why the energy is stagnating in the first place. In a post trauma injury this may be easy to work out but in long term chronic issues any number of physical and emotional factors could be at work in isolation, or in collusion with one another. Looking at the wider aspects of your health and well being both physically and mentally helps me to get a clearer picture of whats going on and to then tailor the treatment to your specific needs.
If you suffer from pain and would like more information about how acupuncture could help please contact me to discuss – Contact Details
For more information on managing pain follow this link to the NHS pain management self help leaflet – Pain Toolkit
My regular and recent patients, or those who follow my social media pages will be aware that I recently raised money for EACH with a sponsored head shave and leg wax (ouch!). I chose this particular charity because I had heard great things about them and as a parent could really resonate. Having raised the money however I was keen to find out more about the great work that EACH does so on Monday, very kindly hosted by Lucy from the fund raising team, I was given a full tour of the facilities. It was both amazing and moving.
EACH have 3 hospices in the East Anglia region at Milton, Quidenham and Ipswich but their care services reach beyond these premises. They support children with life threatening conditions and their families with physical hands on therapy and emotional support. This can be at one of the three centres, in a community setting or in the family home depending on individual needs.
The hospice at Milton is set at the end of a quiet country lane which is home to some of the oldest dwellings in the village. The original buildings, which formerly belonged to the parish church, are set in beautiful gardens and have been tasteful developed to provide the much needed accommodation, therapy and play space. The centre is run by a mixture of staff and volunteers and I was immediately struck by how friendly and happy everyone is.
Lucy explained that the appearance of the hospice is carefully considered to provide a home from home environment. This is evident with the beautiful wall mural that greets you in reception. Everywhere we go there is colour and art work, much of it produced by the children during their art therapy sessions. Visual stimulation is very important to the children who visit and their various needs have all been considered. For example, Lucy points out the balloons suspended from the ceiling to me. Some of the children who cant’t sit upright will only have the upper walls and ceilings in their vision so these areas are made interesting too. This type of detail is everywhere and its clear that serious thought has gone into every aspect of the care and design.
The visual stimulation is really indulged in the sensory room, somewhere I could have happily languished for a few hours. Lights, music, projectors, water, a real place to unwind.
My favourite room was what I would describe as a multi-media space. With special thought to teenage children and siblings the room is dominated by a massive flat screen through which the latest games consoles can be accessed as well as a substantial library of blockbuster movies. Music decks and a whole raft of other “grown up” toys make sure that everyone is kept happy.
I was quite struck with how quiet the centre was when we arrived. Lucy informed me that this is because the children and staff get out into the community whenever possible, perhaps to Milton Country Park just round the corner or further afield. Indeed we only had time to quickly wave at the resident music therapist as he grabbed a few instruments and headed out of the door for the days sessions. It was a pity he was passing through. I am informed that he has previously been joined by one of the centres ambassadors, Ed Sheeran, and I’d have liked to talk to him a bit about that day!
We did have time to talk with the resident chef however. Many of the children who attend the hospice have complex dietary needs and these are all catered for without compromising on taste. We discussed some of these at length and our shared perspective on how important nutrition is, not just in poor health but to promote good health. Chef was keen to point out that her nutritional programme isn’t just for the visiting children. Many of the families overlook their own needs because of the demands and emotional strain of caring for their children so getting some good nutrition into the whole family is Chef’s aim.
Amongst the light, music and artwork, it is an unescapable fact that there is a more emotional side to the work. Palliative care is provided and some of the facilities and services exist to support the families who are tragically affected by the loss of a child. This support is not only during the final moments, but beyond as part of continued care programme and as an ongoing community where parents can re-attend annually for a remembrance day.
The cost of running all of this is, of course, substantial. Across the 3 centres it costs about £16,000 per day to run, 365 days a year. This equates to about £6 million a year. This is funded mostly out of the generosity of donations.
In the modern world there are so many worthy causes looking for your help, its difficult to know where to pledge your support. I can only say in support of EACH that the work they are doing is amazing. They are currently raising funds for a new hospice in Norfolk and need a lot of support for this. The video below provides more information on this project.
I am truly grateful to all of the people who sponsored my event helping to raise just short of £1,000. If you haven’t donated yet and would like to this link will take you straight through to my just giving page – Just Giving
Please support this very worthy cause.
Thanks for reading – Tony